Tim Pychyl, author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, states that procrastination is “a purely visceral, emotional reaction to something we don’t want to do”– or, as we mentioned earlier, it’s the limbic system having its way. Pychyl agrees that the more unpleasant the task, the more likely we are to put it off. He identifies seven characteristics that make a task more likely to end up on a list of things to do tomorrow:
- Not intrinsically rewarding (i.e. not fun)
- Lacking in personal meaning
7 Tips for Beating Procrastination Triggers
Chris Bailey, a productivity expert and author of The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy, offers these strategies for responding to procrastination triggers.
- Reverse the procrastination trigger: Consider which trigger is influencing your procrastination and think about it differently. For example, if the project is unstructured, spend some time adding structure to it by creating a work breakdown or workflow to help you approach it methodically and work through it step by step. If a task is typically not fun, can you turn it into a competition, or play doo-wop music as you undertake it? How can you go about adding clarity to a project that might be otherwise ambiguous?
- Work within your resistance level: There is no sense in beating yourself up. Just acknowledge where you are with your procrastination, and that it’s going to try to trigger resistance. Then, determine how much time you’re able to spend on your project right now: an hour? 20 minutes? One pomodoro? Commit to devoting that amount of time to the task to get started, even if it’s 5 minutes. (Don’t allow yourself to respond that you’re willing to do 0 minutes!) Difficult or frustrating tasks become less so when you work on them a little at a time. After all…how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
- Do something – anything – to get started: Especially with large, complex projects, you can start the ball rolling by reading an article, making a phone call, or organizing your materials. This can give you the push you need to get moving.
- List the costs of procrastination: Remember that $20 million from earlier? Your procrastination has an “opportunity cost” as well! Realizing what the cost is to you can help you get moving. If you are a freelancer who has been hired to build a web site for a client, every day you put it off costs you money. Or, you might be costing yourself the eventual time where you can reward yourself with a round of golf, pursue a hobby, or decorate Christmas cookies with the family. (Just be mindful that you don’t allow these activities to turn into procrastination as well!)
- Find a partner: Being accountable to someone encourages you not to let that person down. If a project has no fixed deadline, create one, or better yet, a series of checkpoints. Share them with someone who agrees to keep you accountable, then check in with that person at stated intervals to keep yourself on track. Also keep in mind that it might provide you an extra set of hands to help with the work, or it might provide you someone to make the experience more enjoyable, both of which will help get the project moving.
- Reward good behavior: Give yourself a reward to work toward. Determine before you start that after a certain amount of time or a certain amount of progress, you’ll reward yourself with a peek at Facebook or a cat video or a few minutes of a game. Wait to participate in these fun activities after you’ve made some headway on your project.
- Disconnect: Devices like smartphones and tablets produce a constant stream of distractions. Remember they all have an off button. Or, at the very least, turn off your notifications. If more drastic measures are required, there are a variety of apps that can temporarily block social media, email, and other distracting sites. Disconnecting to avoid distractions will help you make headway against your procrastination.
What are your procrastination triggers? Spend a few minutes thinking and journaling about a task that you tend to put off and determine which of the above triggers might apply. Brainstorm ways you can reverse those trigger to overcome the problem and complete the task. And then do it!